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Opening Meditation: Close your eyes and imagine a great white warm ball of light shining at the top of the sanctuary, in the center of the room. Imagine that light is the light of Christ, the light of unconditional love, compassion, grace and power so strong no darkness will ever overtake it. Now imagine you are pulling a beam of that light down from the top of the room and into the top of your head. Keep drawing it down, seeing it in your imagination, feeling its warmth inside you, filling your entire body until it is flowing right out the bottom of your feet. Draw it back up through your body and out the top of your head until you are connected to the great light at the top of the room. Then pull it down again bringing it through your head, your shoulders and into your heart. Hold that light in your heart and imagine it is radiating out of you.
Now listen again to the first 5 verses of this morning’s reading once again:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but God will arise upon you, and God’s glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and rulers to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
Those words, recorded around 2500 years ago, are said to have been first spoken by the prophet Isaiah to encourage the people of Israel who after generations of living in exile in Babylon had returned home to the city of Jerusalem with great hope for the future. But instead of reclaiming the thriving and glorious city they had left behind they now faced economic uncertainty, social discord and great hardship. In particular, their temple which had destroyed by the foreign invaders, was in need of rebuilding but the process of that restoration had led to fractures within the community and corruption among their leaders. Instead of being energized about the opportunity to begin again, people were dispirited and dismayed.
Into all that discouragement and darkness, the prophet Isaiah invited them to reflect the light of God, to stand in an imagined future in which suffering would end and honor would be restored. To look up and see the light of God shining all around them, to envision that light within themselves. He implored them to call forward the future they desired, to attract the abundance of both the physical and spiritual world, simply by reflecting the sacred light within them and noticing the light around them.
Unlike the people of ancient Israel, we are not returning from political and physical exile in these days. True, some of us may have been or still are isolating due to Covid. We might not be able to go the gymn but we are not in exile. We aren’t even in government imposed lockdown here on the west coast. We’re not returning from exile, we’re just returning from the season of Christmas. But some of us may be feeling a similar kind of discouragement as the people of Israel as we settle back into our routines post-Christmas.
Usually the season of Christmas buoys us up with its promise of peace and goodwill for all people and the spirit of generosity and kindness that tends to prevail throughout the holidays. Entering the new year usually brings a fresh start and a spirit of optimism. But this year a lot of us felt pretty let down by Christmas. It didn’t turn out the way many of us expected it to and starting the new year with an artic outflow and the highest case counts of Covid so far hasn’t exactly lifted our spirits either. This week I spent some time on Bowen Island where all the store fronts are still sporting beautiful Christmas décor. But in the pouring rain and melting snow it just looked sad to me, like they were trying to put on a poorly disguised cheerful brave face.
Even though Dr. Bonnie says that we are likely seeing the peak of omicron and the snow has melted and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner there is still so much uncertainty in our world right now. It’s enough to make me want to go back to bed, pull up the covers and wait for spring to come.
And yet the imperative of the prophet Isaiah is to get out of bed, put on the clothes of faith and trust and radiate hope. Somehow, he says, doing this will attract and generate even more hope and possibility.
Over the years, there’s been a few wise sayings I have returned to over and over again my life: Taking care of yourself is taking care of others; children who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways; and one of my favourites: pray for what you need and act as if it has already been given.
That’s what the prophet Isaiah seems to be saying to the people of Israel despairing about the state of their temple and their nation as they return from exile: live as if the future you have been promised is happening right now. Do it by lifting up our eyes and seeing, taking notice of the ways God is already at work in the world and then reflecting that outwards.
What if, in these dark winter days, we began each day not just by imagining the light of Christ filling our bodies and then radiating that light out as we did in our opening meditation. What if, we began each day even before we get out of bed, taking notice of the ways our bodies have done what they needed to do throughout the night to keep us alive while we were sleeping with absolutely no effort on our behalf. What if we noticed the way our hearts have kept beating and our stomachs have worked at digesting our food and how even our hair has been growing and our skin cells have been regenerating. What if we began each day with gratitude for what has already been freely given to us while we’ve been doing nothing? (at least not consciously)
What if we were more intentional about lifting our eyes each day to take note of the power and the glory of justice, love and grace already present in our world? There is no doubt that there were a lot of discouraging things that happened in 2021 in our personal and professional lives, nationally and internationally. People that we loved died, some of them before their time, some of them all alone. People got Covid and cancer and heart disease. There were lots of environmental disasters and continued injustices both at home and abroad. There was violence and more division between families, friends and strangers over whether to be vaccined or not than anyone ever would have imagined. But that is not all there was.
Looked at through another lens, 2021 was full of all kinds of achievements and wonders. Scientists created an effective vaccine against Covid-19 in record breaking time and those vaccines have been rolled out at phenomenal speed (and if we can do that in Canada we can make it happen for everyone in our world.) For the first time in Canadian History we have an Inuit Governor General. In the midst of our “not what we thought it was going to be” Christmas season we once again collected socks and hoodies and pajamas and gift cards for the people of First United Church and the Youth Safe House and we raised over $148,000.00 and still counting for the redevelopment of First United. We prayed for one another and encouraged one another through difficult times. There was a group of people who met faithfully week in and week out for zoom coffee for the first 8 months of the year and another group that met to study books authored by Indigenous people. We launched a new ministry this fall with the Pilgrims Path group. We have a whole slew of new volunteers in our Thrift Shop, many of them youth and young adults and who would have guessed that when we returned to in person worship in September we would discover we have new church members who joined us online.
In 2021 we let our light shine and we are still letting it shine. It’s all a matter of perspective.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah, the glory of God has arisen upon us. When we radiate God’s love and justice and peace, we attract more love, justice and peace.
Darkness covers the earth. Thick darkness covers the peoples, but the promise of our faith is that the sacred fire of love and life continues to rise in the midst of it all. The more we take notice of it, the more we trust and believe in it, the more we rise and shine, the brighter it shines.